DeSean Jackson & the NFL’s Double Standard

The Philadelphia Eagles and DeSean Jackson have had a peculiar history. Jackson has been a playmaker in Philadelphia, by all means. He’s an explosive receiver with the power to score from anywhere on the field. Long, short, quickly, slowly, however you want it. Jackson can bring you to pay dirt.

He had a career season with the Eagles last season catching the most balls he’s ever seen, tying a career high in touchdown receptions and averaging a career high in yards per game. So when the Eagles released him, it was pretty shocking–especially to Eagles fans like myself. For years, I thought this was the highest quality organization in the league. Their ethics and morals were set and they would win games with the team that they put together. They were like a family to me. From McNabb to Westbrook to Staley to Dawkins to Jim Johnson and Andy Reid, I thought they were class personified. But with Jackson’s release, all of that has gone down the drain.

The first reaction was that you knew something like this was going to happen. Him being involved in so many trade rumors and juicy stories would lead anyone to believe that. You don’t have to be a private eye to have common sense, after all. But for him to be flatout cut was a shock to just about everyone. Jackson was trending on social media sites everywhere within minutes. Every fanbase wanted a piece of him, and rightfully so.

But what made the release even more puzzling was the piece that seemed to drop almost simultaneously with the news. Jackson had never been in any off-field trouble while in Philadelphia, but reported that unnamed sources believed that Jackson was affiliated with gangs. With the Aaron Hernandez situation last season and the NFL trying to crack down harder on some of its workforce, this would make perfect sense for the Eagles. If Jackson is affiliated with gangs, he’s a liability.

But the problem was that nothing concrete came from the story. Aside from Jackson throwing up gang signs–a worrisome, yet common, offense–and having a crip signed to his recording label, Jaccpot records. Now, I’m all for the safety and security of an organization, but when you release someone on these terms the causation of it has to be concrete. Nothing concrete was ever materialized from this article. It was just a bunch of “he could be” or “he was suspected of”.

Now, there’s a problem with this entire situation that I’ve yet to place my finger on. As an Eagles fan, it was quite bothersome for me and it still is. The reasoning behind Jackson’s release was never really highlighted by the organization. The aforementioned article used unidentified sources from the Eagles’ organization, but none of this was confirmed by the Eagles. They merely just published a tweet stating that they had released the Pro-Bowler and were moving in a different direction.

But for a Pro-Bowler, that isn’t enough. Your fans deserve a lot more than 140 characters in this situation. You’ve got to explain why you let this player–who has been such an enormous impact on your organization over the last seven years–walk away without getting any value in return. That isn’t normally how teams operate and you don’t see things like this every day without having a bit of background in place already. There were no signs of turmoil between Jackson and Eagles’ brass aside from him asking for a new extension and the Eagles denying him of that extension. And that certainly isn’t enough to make an NFL team release such a talented and valuable asset. Not as greedy as these teams are.

Furthermore, Jackson’s character has been decimated and the Eagles’ have done nothing about it. And this is the part that bothers me the most. Normally, when members of an organization are quoted in a big story, someone comments on them. No one from the Eagles front office or coaching staff has come out and said anything about the story that paints Jackson as a gang member and they continue to stay away from the matter. People think that the Eagles released Jackson because he’s gang affiliated, and that seems to be far from the truth. Jackson even said himself, in an ESPN interview with Stephen A. Smith , that he’s not a gang member and he doesn’t affiliate himself with gang members who do negative things.

And what else was he supposed to say? He shouldn’t have to say anything at all. Jackson has never been convicted of a crime and is not a criminal. It’s because of the Philadelphia Eagles that this story is even out. Now, the Eagles haven’t confirmed whether that was their belief or not, but silence says as much as anything else in this situation. And if that isn’t the case, then saying that would save not only the Eagles a bunch of trouble, but Jackson as well. Instead, they remain silent on the issue and continue to speak behind veils.

This was an organization that I respected highly. I thought the Eagles’ standard was higher than the rest of the NFL’s. In a league where players who play the most physical sport in the world can’t get guaranteed money, the Eagles stood out to me. They stood behind Andy Reid as he went through struggles with his family. They stood behind Donovan McNabb through his multiple NFC Championship appearances that ended without reaching the pinnacle of success at the Super Bowl all but once. They defended McNabb against racism throughout his career and even signed a convicted felon in Michael Vick shortly after he got out of jail. They didn’t care about the protests or the harping coming from PETA. They wanted Michael on their team and they believed in him enough to give him a contract that had the potential to reach $100 million.

They’ve had leaders like Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown come through this organization and bleed green. They showed the world, when the black quarterback was still frowned upon, that Randall Cunningham could play football and do it as well as anyone else could. They were an organization that stood by their players and they showed the players the same respect that they received from them. So this, in what is an ugly saga, seems to be an all-time low.

Jackson is now in Washington, trying to rehabilitate his image and get accustom to a new home. But should that really be the case? As an Eagles fan, it doens’t trouble me that Jackson is gone. If you don’t believe in a player’s ability then you don’t. What troubles me here is that Jackson was released based on a publicly unknown reason and we’ll probably never figure the full story out.

What troubles me is that Jackson was released for something we have no tangible evidence to prove. But on the other side of the spectrum, Riley Cooper was retained and even given an extension after using a racial slur at a country music concert. What are the Eagles really saying here? Is–supposedly–being a member of a gang worst than being a racist? If simple hand signs are enough evidence for Jackson to be apart of a gang, what type of ground does the word “Nigger” hold? Is racism acceptable in 2014?

And if Jackson does know members of gangs, so what? That doesn’t make him a bad person or a man who supports gang violence. If you go through the life of any normal individual, I’m sure you’ll find that most people know someone with a troubled past or in a troubling situation. That doesn’t mean that they support the trouble or condone it in any way–they could just be acquainted.

Or, maybe, they’re really good friends. If so, then what? Does Jackson have to just dump his friends? You show me a person who lets go of a past relationship with a close friend because of a million dollar contract and I’ll show you someone who isn’t loyal. Throughout my own life, I’ve seen things that I probably wish I hadn’t. I’ve heard things that I really wish I didn’t have to. I’ve been in situations that I really didn’t belong in. But that doesn’t make me a terrible person. I’ve grown up and I’ve had a privileged life. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend college, and I’ll be graduating this year. Did the people I’m affiliated with change that? No, they didn’t. If anything they’ve bettered me. They’ve encouraged me from the start, and that’s something I’ll never forget. Can’t you imagine DeSean Jackson being in the same way if he does know any gang members?

While we’re in the business of speculation, picture this. You lose your father–your childhood idol–to cancer. After a long, hard fight and a tumultuous time for your family, you feel lost. You have nowhere to turn because you’ve lost your mentor. The only ones who show you any support through the situation are your friends. But there’s a catch–your friends are Crips. They gang bang, sell drugs and do other things that gang members do. But they keep you away from it. They make sure that you’re out of trouble and that you’re staying on the right path to become successful. They want you to better yourself so you can live out your father’s–your mentor’s–dreams. What are you going to do, then? Are you going to let that relationship fade to black, or are you going to repay them for all the good they’ve done for you?

The Philadelphia Eagles showed us a side of them that I never really knew that they had. They’ve shown me a side that has me questioning my allegiance as a fan. They showed very little support for a player who had given them what he could and then some. He outperformed his draft status and contract–twice. He delivered them win after win and caught ball after ball just to be released and left in limbo. They allowed his public image to take a hit and are currently saving face because of the speculation that comes with the rumors. They aren’t going to do anything about it–do you know why? Because the Eagles image comes first, second, third and whatever other places you have. They don’t care about anyone else, as long as they can ball.

And that has become the climate of the NFL over the last few years. The players are treated like pieces of meat expected to do the impossible. Don’t hit too hard, but hit here and make sure it looks good. Run full speed at this man and deliver the best hit you can–without using your head. Oh, and by the way, that $10 million on your contract? Only $4 million is guaranteed. Give us your all while we give you our half. And make sure that you don’t come back when you’re old and grey, because we won’t pay you.

How can I support a league like this? How can we support a league like this? Where all they care about is money and the shield. A league where Riley Cooper can keep a job after a clear racist remark, but DeSean Jackson is cut for unknown reasons. A league where Jim Irsay can drive around, high, with a load of prescription drugs and thousands in cash on hand and still be regarded as a good, honest man. They say that Irsay is a genuinely good man and just needs help. Yet, if a player gets a DUI, they’re a criminal and they need to be more responsible.

This is a league where Myron Rolle couldn’t last because he was too smart. Where once you thing about anything other than football, your goose is cooked. Think about that–a player’s intentions are questioned when he does what is in his best interest. The last time I checked, that was a positive thing. The average NFL career lasts only three to four years–why wouldn’t you look to see what other options you have after your playing days?

I thought better of the Philadelphia Eagles, but apparently I was wrong. They let DeSean down; they let me down; most importantly, they let themselves down. I don’t know how this decision will work for them on the field, but I can tell you with certainty that it doesn’t look good off of the field. Winning will probably solve everything, sadly.

But this is something that I’ll never forget about. And you shouldn’t either, because it isn’t fair. We’re far too advanced as a society to let hearsay conquer all. We’ve got to look beyond the trees and look at the forest. It isn’t about Jackson not being an Eagle anymore. It’s about him being a human being. Using a story like that to prove a point or create a reason is criminal and something needs to be done about it.

The ethical beliefs of this league need to be in question by its fanbase. But by now, it may be too late. The product is too big and these things are accepted far too easily. The facade of things being all about winning has always been what teams have fallen back on, but at what cost? We need to seriously ask ourselves that as we watch our favorite teams on Sundays.

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